Lessons for New Philanthropists (and old ones)

Paul Shoemaker of Social Venture Partners is publishing “Ten Things We’d Like to Tell Every New Philanthropist” on the SVP blog. Paul notes in the intro: “This is written in the spirit of sharing knowledge and helping philanthropists be more effective. Every mistake articulated here has been made by all of us. The intent is not to preach a one-size-fits-all formula or to be arrogant in our viewpoints. Our sincere hope is that it will encourage reflection and stimulate lots of feedback, criticism, and conversation.”

With Paul’s permission, I’m republishing his ten lessons. Imagine if every funder with some experience under their belt published a similar list? Imagine the resources that could put to better use if new donors (or experienced, but ineffective ones) could learn from lots of experts like Paul.

Lesson 7: “Non-profits move so slowly; it takes forever to make decisions”

Yes, there are some non-profits that are inefficient, just like some for-profits. But more often than not, the pace and decision-making style of a non-profit is more consensus-driven because of its constituencies, communities, and clients.

Their missions and decision makers are, on average, more diffuse and varied and the goals more numerous. It is just a different context in which works gets done and goals achieved.  It dictates a different kind of strategy and tactics. This does not mean that any organization, non-profit or for-profit, should accept mediocrity, unnecessary bureaucracy, or ineffectiveness. It does mean that, as a donor, you need to know you are working with a different “industry” with a different set of norms and rules.